Edward Czaja Passes …
There aren’t a lot of people that have the opportunity to spend 40 years with their grandfather.Â I was lucky enough to do just that.Â This morning, Edward Czaja passed away.
Up until the last few years, when his health, and eventually his mind, began to fail him, my grandfather played a major role in my life.Â He was there for every personal milestone and was as much a part of our immediate family as one can be.Â As an avid sports fan, he was very influential to me.
Back in the late seventies he planted the seeds that would blossom into my becoming a Syracuse Orange fan.Â He was an avid supporter of Syracuse University football and basketball.Â We would watch (or listen) to the games together and he would go on and on about players and moments he witnessed in Orange history.Â From being an usher at Archibold Stadium to witnessing the last basketball game at Manley Field House.Â From the first game at the Carrier Dome to the National Title run.Â He was there.Â We cheered together huddled around a radio at the kitchen table on West Matson Avenue in 1987 when the football team went undefeated and we were both heart broken when Keith Smart hit that last second shot in the NCAA Title game.Â We sat in the last row of bleachers in the Carrier Dome as Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins crushed the Orange and he took me to several media day events to meet the players.
Ed was a Chiefs and Toronto Blue Jay fan.Â He would see Babe Ruth in his final days and together we watched the Chiefs retire Hank Sauer’s jersey.Â He took me to see my first Major League game featuring my favorite team, the St. Louis Cardinals, play the Mets at Shea Stadium and the next day we went on to watch the Toronto Blue Jays whomp the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.Â It takes a lot of courage to walk around New York City wearing St. Louis and Toronto baseball hats!Â Together we visited Cooperstown and watched a ball game at Double Day Field.
We spent countless hours playing cards head to head, playing Pinochle with my grandmother and Aunt Theresa or with my parents, and of course in the family pitch games throughout the years.Â We played chess together and against my Aunt Diane.Â He was an avid bowler and accomplished golfer, both of which we did together as well.Â For the record though, golf is not, was not and never will be a sport that I’d be interested in — “no gramp, I don’t want your golf clubs”.Â Still, he was good at all of these in his prime.
Of course, not every moment was roses.Â Some of his actions made me cringe in embaressment.Â For example, on the golf course, he would bring extra garbage bags to collect the bottles and cans left at each of the holes.Â At times, this could be a considerable amout of cans and by time we finished the 18th hole, I’d feel like the theme music of Sanford and Son would be playing in my head as we made our way to the club house with these Hefty bags full of cans tied to our golf bags.Â I remember one time we had arrived at a hole where a couple of golfers in their mid thirties were getting ready to tee off.Â One of the gentlemen set his beer down on the bench as he pulled his driver out of his bag and approached the ball.Â My grandfather went to the bench, emptied out the remainder of his beer and put the can in his “returns bag”.Â The golfer watched his ball sail off the tee, returned the club to his bag and then began looking around for his beer.Â Yeah, at 14 years old, I wished that someone had just run me over with their golf cart at that moment.
Over the last several years, all of this had been taken from him.Â He no longer could play or even watch any of these games.Â He no longer could drive.Â He no longer remembered any of the trips we took together.Â He had forgotten the athletes he idolized and over the last few weeks he no longer even recognized me.Â As sad as it is to see him pass, I’m grateful that he can finally rest in dignity and in peace — well, my grandmother may have a thing or two to do with the “in peace” part.
The family is working on final arrangements today and I’ll update the information when details have been finalized.